Avery Temple with the Fossil Free Eugene campaign speaks to fellow protesters during a rally in front of the NW Natural offices in Eugene March 19, 2021 (photo by Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard).

Opinion: NW Natural’s campaign reeks of desperation

by Bethany Cotton, Conservation Director for Cascadia Wildlands
Originally published in The Register-Guard, May 27, 2022

NW Natural is running full page ads in this paper co-opting the word “choice” while half of our country’s population is facing the impending loss of a fundamental constitutional right. The company, like others wedded to climate-destroying fossil fuels, knows that the future is bleak for its dangerous product, so it is behaving like the dying industry it is by employing increasingly desperate rhetoric. 

NW Natural’s cynical spin is corporate public relations at its worst: misleading and profoundly offensive. And it stinks of the same profit-motivated industry misdirection that characterized the waning days of successful past efforts to regulate dangerous and toxic household products including lead paint, asbestos and DDT. 

Current efforts in Eugene and dozens of other communities to build a fossil-free future are grounded in community care: a desire to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and better protect those disproportionately impacted by indoor air pollution from gas appliances by taking practical steps. 

Aside from being a cynical attempt to activate people’s fears using rhetoric deeply associated with a civil rights issue, NW Natural’s use of “choice” is also factually wrong. First, electrification efforts are about preventing new natural gas infrastructure; they do not impact existing homes or businesses. Second, more than 50% of Eugene residents are renters and thus do not have the ability to choose a safer, cleaner energy source for their homes. Third, homeowners and buyers may theoretically have a choice, but expense and practical considerations make fuel switching complicated — challenges I can attest to as a recent homebuyer working to transition my Eugene home off natural gas.  

As society progresses and science teaches us about the harms of certain products, we ban the most harmful to protect human health and the environment. While we ended the use of lead paint and asbestos decades ago, we are still dealing with their impacts in older homes and buildings. The same will be true as we transition to a clean energy future – we will have to address old gas infrastructure. The first step, though, is to stop investing in the very products that have produced the climate crisis. 

Investing in new gas infrastructure is akin to building more lead paint and asbestos factories decades after discovering the disastrous health impacts of those products. NW Natural has publicly attempted to sell its product as a “transition” fuel for decades, while working to undermine a just transition behind the scenes. The company claims to be an ally in fighting climate change, yet actively works to sabotage efforts at every turn, including suing to block implementation of Oregon’s Climate Protection Program, lobbying against efforts to reduce fossil fuel use at the local, state and federal level, and, adding insult to injury, seeking a 12% rate increase that would allow the company to charge we ratepayers for some of its advertising and lobbying activities.  

Electrification efforts in our community are about preventing further investments in infrastructure that presents a clear and present danger to our climate and public health. Here’s hoping the public, Eugene City Council and other leaders see through NW Natural’s corporate ruse.  

Born, raised and educated in Oregon, Bethany Cotton is an environmental attorney and the Conservation Director for Cascadia Wildlands, cascwild.org. She’s a regular contributor to The Register-Guard. 

Learn more about local efforts for a Fossil Free Eugene, visit FossilFreeEugene.org